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Flipping the Linux switch: Banshee learns to sing

Banshee screen smallWe've always been fond of Amarok. It has some good features, nice add-ons, and felt just a little friendlier than some other Linux media players. We recently discovered a contender to the title of most loved Linux media player, the ominously named Banshee. Fortunately, Banshee doesn't involve listening to shrieking demons, unless that's your genre of choice.

It's an application that has been increasingly packaged with distributions that include GNOME as the default desktop. For those distributions that don't include it on a standard install, it's almost always available from a repository. Many of those repositories include, at present, Banshee's 0.13.3 version. This is the stable version of Banshee and shows loads of promise, but it isn't quite Amarok.

We recommend, if possible, hunting down packages for your distro of choice of the latest version of Banshee (0.99.2). If there are no packages available, try installing the newer version via Subversion. It takes a bit more time, but it is well worth the effort.

Why? Because Banshee 0.99.2 (or alternately, Banshee 1.0 Beta 2) is an almost completely different screamin' demon. It may be a beta version, and not without its bugs, but it works much more smoothly than the 0.13.3 install we were using previously on Hardy Heron.
Banshee has made the transition from a music player to a full blown media player. It will happily play your mp3s, rip your CDs, organize your collection into play lists, burn discs, and allow you to store and view your video library. It connects to your Last.FM account, aggregates podcasts and transfers files between your mp3 player and your computer. The number of plugins incorporated in Banshee by default between 0.13.3 and Beta 2 has grown, but Banshee isn't any less responsive.

Banshee screen. Yes, fine, I listen to cheesy music. Deal with it.

Plugins can be disabled, even if they seem core to Banshee. Don't want to use Last.FM? Don't want to use Banshee for video playback? Disable the extension, and get it out of the way. It may not improve performance, but a Banshee that does what you want is a lot better than a Banshee with a mind of its own.

Yay! Extensions are fun to manage with this preference window.

Our favorite thing about Banshee makes us seem so shallow. We really like the way it looks. File browsers can be moved within the program, and the cover art display is optional. The shuffle and repeat functions are easy to find, and the search function works quickly and can be refined by genre, title, artist, album and year. The layout is really clean, and in keeping with what we've come to expect in advanced media applications.

Searching does deserve more than a passing mention, truth be told. Banshee is quite happy with searching in the manner that most of us with modest music collections are familiar with: we type in "Tool" and get our fix of Maynard James Keenan. Some of us, though, have a lot more music on their computers than others. That means that searching, while maybe not painfully slow, does shave precious seconds off our time spent listening.

Enter the Xesam user search language. Banshee supports this language (as does Google and other heftier applications needing a powerful search interface) and that can give Banshee a huge advantage in an audiophile's collection. We're not sure how many people would use more than the standard AND, OR, NOT Boolean operators, but it could be infinitely useful for those who need to search by file type, rating, added-on date or file size.

Banshee allows for Bookmarking, which is a neat little feature letting the user save a spot in a song and start playback at that point later. Banshee also promises DAAP support to stream your collection to other Banshee, iTunes or Rhythmbox users, although at this point, it's allegedly a bit unstable.

Editing tags is quick and easy, done by right clicking the appropriate track and editing the appropriate information. It seems Banshee is really sensitive to any sort of weirdness with metadata on files. We discovered this when we took songs that existed only on the Creative device we had and imported them to the computer. We had originally used Gnomad2 for this and Banshee seemed to take an issue with the imported tags. The metadata tags had many stray characters and extraneous spaces. Even so, files played just fine, and could be searched with little difficulty, despite the tag ugliness. Files downloaded directly from music services (without DRM, of course) had no problems with playback or tagging.

Fun extraneous characters on my ID3 tags. Thanks, Creative!

Banshee 0.13 recognized our Creative Zen Touch (we're old school) without incident and would happily let us transfer files between our computer and the device. Beta 2 was not quite as forthcoming. The appropriate files and libraries seem to be installed that would recognize and control the Zen Touch, but there was still no love. We have a hunch that this is more user error than Banshee error at this point, and we're imagining the problem lies somewhere in the njb-sharp bindings and the way we installed them.

For those less old school (or more mainstream), Banshee is quite comfortable with iPods and Mass Storage Device based media players. It does have problems with MTP devices, such as Zunes and newer Zens. The Rio Karma is also a work in progress, but seems a bit further along, with code starting to appear in Subversion.

Our mp3 player issues aside, we like what we see taking shape with Banshee. We'd especially recommend it to those who like the function of Amarok, but are turned off by the presentation. We'd also recommend it to those with extremely large media collections due to its powerful search function, and to those who prefer a true media player over a dedicated music or video player.

Tags: Audio, Banshee, GNOME, ipod, Linux, linux-switch, media, mp3, opensource, player, podcast, video

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